While many companies take pride in how they interact with the
professional community from which they recruit, others are
clueless about the damage human resources (HR) departments
their corporate image and reputation.
Sometimes a reader's question reveals what's wrong
with America's employment system. This is one such story. After
spending enormous sums on public relations (PR) to create a positive
corporate image, does this company's board of directors have any idea
that HR is trashing that PR effort? Do hiring managers at this company
have any idea how HR treats the professional community from which
those managers need to recruit people?
My guess is no and no. The board thinks HR is handling human
resources, but it’s also in the business of public relations. As an
important interface to the company’s professional community, HR’s
staffers are in a position to inflict serious damage to the corporate
image. Maybe HR should report to PR just so there’s some oversight
of HR’s behavior out in the real world.
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A couple of years ago I found a "contract" position with
Company A. I had just moved into the area and I was willing to work on
contract until I established myself and learned about the corporate
The interview with Company A went well, but the contract position
never materialized due to funding constraints. So I accepted an offer
for a permanent position with Company B.
Fast forward to 2009. Company A now has a permanent position that
I'm very interested in. I contacted Ms. Hiring Manager and she said
she would be very glad to talk with me, as I definitely have the
skills they are looking for. So far so good, right? She said someone
would call me to set up an in-person interview. Instead, I got a
surprise phone interview under the pretense of setting the
A call came from Company A's HR person in the
middle of my work day and it went like this:
"Hi, this is Ms. HR from Company A. Is this a good
Expecting a quick conversation to make an appointment with Ms.
Hiring Manager, I leap from my desk to
a quiet place where I can talk.
Ms. HR: "I want to make an appointment for you to come
in and talk with Ms. Hiring Manager."
Me: "Great. When would be a good time for Ms. Hiring
Manager to meet?"
Ms. HR: "Well, first I need to be sure you are
qualified for the position."
Me: "I've already spoken with Ms. Hiring Manager about
the position, and she said you would call and make an appointment for
Ms. HR: "Well, I don't want to waste Ms Hiring
Manager's time." [Me, silently, "Wha...? Okaayyy."]
Ms. HR: "I see you applied for a contract position with
Me: "Yes, I did. That's why I contacted Ms. Hiring
Manager when I saw that a permanent position was open with your company."
Ms. HR: "Well, are you ready to make a commitment to a
permanent position [snarky tone] since you applied for a contract
position last time?" [She does not allow me to get a word in
edgewise.] I see you have had other contract positions. We want
someone who will stay with us and make a commitment!"
Me: "Isn't the position I discussed with Ms.
Hiring Manager permanent?"
Ms. HR: "Yes, but you have had a lot of contract
Me: "My last three jobs over five years have been
permanent positions. As for the contracts, you do know what's been
going on in the IT industry and the economy the last few years, right?
Due to financial pressure, many companies are hiring contractors. I
took the job that was available."
Ms. HR: [Interrupting and in a loud voice.] "We need to
be sure you are ready to make a commitment to a job." [She asked
about this not once, not twice, but four times.]
Me: "I applied for a permanent position, so that is what I am
Ms. HR: [Changing approach.] "What salary do you expect for
Me: "I don't generally discuss salary until I have a better
feel for the job responsibilities and benefits."
Ms. HR: "I need to know what you want so you are not wasting
Ms. Hiring Manager's time. We can't bring you in here if you want too
Me: " I'd rather discuss that with the hiring manager."
[We go back and forth. She insists in an increasingly nasty tone
that I tell her how much I want.]
Ms. HR: "Okay, so what are you making
Me: "My compensation is confidential. I can't disclose that
information. It's covered under a non-disclosure agreement."
Ms. HR: "In all my years of working in HR I have never heard
anyone say that salary is covered under a confidentiality
agreement!" [Raises voice with a nasty tone.] "Never, never!
I've never heard of that!"
Me: "Well, it is covered under an NDA. Perhaps you have
never worked with anyone from Company X [a Fortune 50 company] before,
but that's its policy."
Finally, I realize she has just called me a liar after
springing a phone interview on me with no warning and then verbally
abusing me. Whoa!?
Me: "Your company is not a good fit for me. Thank you for your
Generally speaking, I was a solid candidate for the job. But if
this is an indication of the culture, the
company is not a good candidate for me. I'd like to let the hiring manager know what happened, in case she
doesn't know how HR is driving away good candidates. How do I say it to Ms. Hiring Manager, if at all?
Your story is worth this entire column and it makes a point all by
itself. Please check the How to Say It feature for
my advice (above and to the right).
While it's possible Ms. Hiring Manager used HR as a way to
indirectly turn you down for an interview, I don't see any indication
of that. What I see is an aggressive personnel jockey who needs a lot
If you use my suggestion, Ms. Hiring Manager will ask what you're
talking about. Don't get into it. Tell her that you will e-mail her your transcript of the
call, and that if she wants to talk after she reads it, you'd welcome
her call. When you send it, add a note that says, "I hope you and I can meet someday
under different circumstances because I'm impressed with the way you
present yourself. I did not produce this transcript for you — I wrote
it up for a friend. But I think you will understand when you read it.
I wish you the best — and I'm always glad to talk with you any time. I don't consider this experience any reflection of you. Kind
The point is to rattle HR's cage. You did the right thing. Take
note: This approach may not be for everyone. But ask yourself, how
would the board of directors respond if it were to hear that
personnel jockey in action, representing her company to its
professional community? Maybe the board would vote to put PR in charge
of HR, to better oversee the company's reputation.
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